Jan 29, 2009

My World of Baseball-Part V: Statistics

To me, one of the most fun and satisfying part of watching a baseball game at the ballpark is to keep score. You don't control the game at all (though I always imagine that I can predict how my half-pencil will move the next at-bat. Come on 1B...just one more hit...). I especially enjoy the fact that you get an instantaneous snapshot of how the player has done in previous at-bats and innings. It also gives a brief mental picture of each event of the game. Never before can three symbols mean so much (aside from other acronym types) like GO 5-3. Can't you just picture the event?

The cumulative effect of keeping score and the statistics that are present by the end of the game are the value. With one glance, you can see what events led to the ultimate goal, scoring runs. You can calculate BA, OBP, SLG and add totals to other things like HR and RBI to get a picture of how a player contributed to the team scoring (or not scoring) runs. Pitching statistics are also apparent: K, BB, H allowed, ERA, RA, etc. You can see with your eyes and then correlate the game with the numbers.

A season is an accumulation of games and a career is an accumulation of seasons. How to figure out how a player contributes to scoring runs, preventing runs, and ultimately wins (or wins in an average or neutral environment) gives a good idea of the player's value. There are many ways to measure this. Some of them are cumulative stats based completely off a player's total and rate stats (win shares, base runs). Others are based on comparing the player to a level of his peers (EqA, VORP from Baseball Prospectus, WARP3, RSAA). Others are based on comparing to peers adjusting for their environment to compare players in different eras (OPS+, ERA+, Neutral Wins). These all require some calculation. But they are based in the one reality that baseball exhibits, scoring runs is good on offense and preventing runs is good on defense.

Even basic statistics that keeping score and the boxscore show have value. They give a quicksnapshot of a player and how well he took advantage of opportunities. They also are the basis for any other comparative statistic that might exist. Build a base with actual events and correlate this to value and essentially to runs/preventing runs. It seems simple, but there are always roadblocks to devising a number that encapsulates as much as you would like to capture.

I don't have the time to invent new statistics or sift through vast amounts of data. There are many sites and books and organizations that do that very well. It is of interest to dive deeper than keeping score and reading the boxscore to appreciate baseball on a historical and reflective level. It is always interesting and always sparks debate, which many people enjoy. A worthy debate is almost as good as the reasons for it existing.

Jan 28, 2009

My World of Baseball-Part IV: Discussion and Analysis

Baseball is not a continuous sport. It flows in a stepwise manner with discrete events building upon each other so that the anteceding event is dependent upon all preceding events....or at least that's how I tend to think of it. For example, the pitcher walks the first batter in the inning. This influences the oncoming events because the layout of the field changes: (1)the first baseman moves over to cover first base (2)the second baseman and shortstop could be in motion for an attempted steal or move back into "double-play depth" (3)the pitcher begins pitching out of the stretch instead of the windup (4) the signals from the catcher probably become more disguised. Also, the mindset of the defense changes and the mental process of each fielder involves more options. The score of the game and which inning this occurs in at the time this happens also has an impact on the events to come in the future.

This type of thinking has both been observed by observers and quantified by analysis. The interesting point is how many times the intuitions match up with the analysis. For example, when watching a game, you can sense that a team has a much greater opportunity to score when there is a runner on 2nd and 0 out vs when there is a runner on 1st and 1 out. But the analysis shows, based on empirical data, how much of a difference this opportunity actually has been historically in an attempt to predict what can happen "on average". That is fascinating to me.

Also fascinating is anything having to do with the historical perspective of baseball. I mean, I don't necessarily fall for the romanticized version of the game, but the build-up of playing legends set against the backdrop of their time and how they would compare against players from before and after their time is something wonderful to discuss. I have an obsession with reading articles about the Hall of Fame. I don't care if I agree or disagree with their viewpoint, it's amazing how so many people can interpret an individual's career performance. The same could be said for a season performance. Justin Morneau? 2006 MVP? Really? I disagree obviously, but I love to see people either lay out their case rationally or irrationally. Both have merit in the world of baseball because baseball at its heart is both a mental grind and an emotional intensity.

Jan 22, 2009

My World of Baseball-Part III: Clix

This is the post where we diverge from the conventional world and into a place where I sense I am isolated. I have an unhealthy fascination with Sportsclix. I would imagine that if it were popular when I was a child, Strat-o-matic would have a similar hold on me. For the uninitiated, they are approximately 3 inch high baseball figures of various players throughout the league and in history (for the 2005 series) released in three series from late 2003-2005. I first saw them in a Rob Neyer article on ESPN, I bought a couple on ebay, and then the fascination began in a few ways.

I wanted them all, I still do....they are a little difficult to find these days. At some point in the future, I'll post my want list for those who have no use for them lying around the shelves of your domicile. Also, the game itself was fun to play. You got to set up a team with a certain number of points (usually 1000) and play 9 innnings. A typical game took 1.5-2 hours and it always, always!! was very low-scoring; 1-0 and 2-1 were representative scores.

This is the reason why there was nothing more satisfying then "clicking" your player's abilities to the next level. Each player had base abilities and as you failed or succeeded at an at-bat, fielding attempt, pitch sequence, etc....based on the roll of the dice, the player would go on an individual hot or cold streak. And you could get hotter and hotter or really impossibly cold. Every "click" would bring a different set of events that could possibly occur. You have to try it to enjoy it. It fed the probabitician (now a real word) and baseball aficionado in me.

I will detail the clix in later posts aesthetically in later posts when I take some photos of them and can better describe the various poses and what the different levels of rarity meant. This, however, is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of my collecting habits....

Jan 19, 2009

My World of Baseball-Part II: Fantasy Baseball

Being a fan of a team and/or of the game provides, for me, a visceral thrill when there is success or an amazing athletic or historic feat. It's an emotional investment, a heart-pounding, seat of the pants roller coaster of joy and disappointment. And yet, I love every gut wrenching moment of it.

On the other hand, there's the more intellectual side, the playr evaluation side, the side which fulfills my childhood dream of being a GM (I was not a very good little league player, but that is a story for another time)...and that is fantasy baseball. Many people play this, most people probably play it more seriously than I do, but I am an avid player. Not as intense as I once was, but still I like to do well, to say the least.

I started playing in 2001. I don't remember what made me want to participate in my first draft. I even think the first one was an autodraft...I don't do those anymore. I made my rankings and waited. Jeff Bagwell was my first ever first round pick. I don't think it was a particularly good pick. I drafted four teams that year and I was hooked. One team finished in the top 500 overall for Yahoo fantasy baseball in 2001 led by the ghost of Roberto Alomar. Through subsequent years, the number of teams has fluctuated as my obsessiveness fluctuated, peaking with 11 teams in 2003. 2008 saw only two teams. I wouldn't say that I'm an expert, but I have been fairly successful, finishing in the top 3 approximately 70% of the time. This was the first year that I failed to win a league. 2005 was the pinnacle when I won four leagues ranging from 6 to 16 teams.

The point is this...I will give my thoughts about fantasy baseball. I have a feew very defined drafting strategies that I will share. I will also share my rankings whenever I make them up. I trust a lot of sites out there for info, but I tend to be unconventional in my drafting ways. Though this unconventional way has become the new conventional way. My thoughts come closest to mirroring Eric Karabell on ESPN in baseball and my drafting method is pretty close to that of Rotoworld.com. But I wasn't reading those sites when I began....

Fantasy baseball is a method for me to immerse myself in the details of the baseball world off the diamond. It may not be "real", but it's definitely fun. Let's play two.

Jan 14, 2009

My World of Baseball-Part I: My Fandom

Editor's Note: I wish I owned a scanner. This is first on the wishlist.

Baseball is an escape of sorts. It's an idealization of physical skill and mental concentration to bring about a larger goal on a competitive level. This has been waxed poetically about for decades ranging from Henry Chadwick, Grantland Rice, Bill James, Ken Burns, and Joe Posnanski with many in between. Each game is a story and each discrete event in the game has been predicated by previous thoughts and actions. It is a graceful tug of will and ability.

That, however, is not my role. I am a fan. I haven't played a full-scale version of baseball since I was 11. I am an intense, introspective fan. The daily travails of my favorite team can be etched across the gleams and grimaces on my face. The accomplishments which shape baseball lore are lights of memory in my life, regardless of whether I cheer for them or not.

I am a Phillies fan; it is deeply rooted. I attended the 1983 World Series when I could barely walk. I attended the NLCS Game 6 in 1993 in Veterans Stadium when the Phillies went to the World Series for the first time in my life. I moved to the west coast three years ago, so now I am a fan at a distance. I managed to see three Phillies games this year in three different cities: San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles, including NLCS game 3.

In other years, I was there for the 13 game winning streak in 1991, the John Smoltz near no-hitter thrown against them in 1990?, the Randy Ready triple play, the Ricky Jordan grand slam, the last hurrah of Mike Schmidt, fireworks game, Phanatic's birthday games, the Lenny Dykstra inside the park home run against the Mets, the booing of Scott Rolen before the trade, Curt Schilling striking out 16 Yankees....I've seen a lot of Phillies games live in my life (maybe 200?). I've also lived in St. Louis and the Bay Area and gone to their stadiums because I love it, simple as that. Like many other fans, I watch/follow games on TV/internet/radio.

It is not the only way I follow. I am an avid reader of books, magazines, and internet sites. I collect baseball cards. I have very few people in my life who can take a lot of baseball commentary in a day. So I have decided to write about it through my undecidedly biased prism.